UWF football set to play all 5 home games on campus
When the question is asked, “How did you spend your summer?” Many at the University of West Florida can answer, ‘building a stadium.”
Almost a year since the very first campus game on the field turf of Pen Air Field, the Argonauts kick off their first full home season on campus on Saturday evening against Warner University of Lake Wales, Florida.
“Yeah, it's been an interesting process ever since about February, when we made the decision we're going to move back to campus,” said UWF Athletics Director Dave Scott. “We've sort of been all speed ahead about trying to create a stadium venue here on campus, and we're putting the finishing touches on to be ready to play on Saturday.”
On a sunny late morning, workers were busy putting up barricades separating the field from the stands, and cutting grass. Standing at a picnic table in a shady area behind the visitors’ bleachers, Scott said they’re expecting the stands to be full for the game vs. the Royals.
“We're looking at about 4,000 seats in the stands we have about 2,000 with fixed seats on the home side. Then on the east side we have about another 2,000 bench seats,” said Scott. “It's been common, people talking about coming out and sitting around the field. I don't think a lot of people realize we have 4,000 stadium seats out here. Then we have some smaller bleachers for recruits in the end zone.
And along with a new season and new venue, Scott says there are some new rules that will help govern the game day experience.
“We'll close down the parking lots late Friday night. People can go to gorgos.com and get all the game day information as far as rules for the game, clear bag policy, those kind of things. Because everything is new, right? So please read about it and get familiar before we come out.”
The master plan for building at UWF, released about a decade ago, had construction of a campus football stadium roughly 15 to 20 years down the road. But with Blue Wahoos Stadium now unavailable, and the success of the campus game last year, Scott says the timetable is moving on up.
“Our plans now are working on a master plan for a stadium and then funding, in phases to create a time,” he said. “So that maybe in the next three to five years, we're in some kind of permanent process of building a stadium here on campus.”
“February, March we really started having those conversations and seeing if this was a possibility,” said Garron Lucius, an associate athletics director and overseer of the construction project. “The good thing is, last year we actually had our home opener here. That was really a good trial run, a good experience to see how is this possible in the future?”
After discussions in the spring, the ordering of materials began, along with summer.
“Anything you order is six to eight weeks so we started having those conversations in the spring, getting our ordering done, Lucius said. “The bleachers started showing up a couple of weeks ago. We've had students here every week to about 8 or 9 a.m. setting up banners and windscreens and everything, getting it going. So really all our work is through the summer up until this week. And then Saturday is the fun day because that's the game.
Fans will also have a number of choices for food and drink, much of it inspired by the concessions at Pensacola Blue Wahoos games at Bayfront Stadium. But Lucius is quick to add that, they can take advantage of a myriad of choices, including the “ballpark basics.”
“Aramark is our campus catering provider, so they'll have hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, you know, that kind of stuff. And they'll sell all our beer and wine as well. So if you think of Division II football, I mean, even if you go to a Power-5 game, you get some really great options as you come to the game, which only enhances our game day atmosphere.”
Much of the activity leading up to Saturday’s game is based on data collected from the Southwest Baptist game last year. Lucius says there are about 50 people in their football operations meetings every home game week.
“We have all those notes from last year and then after the first game we'll meet again,” he said. “Luckily you can meet virtually now. They'll still send us an email. We'll have a big Google Doc going. They'll send us all the feedback from their area, the good, bad, the ugly. And then luckily, we got two weeks to fix it for that September 24 game versus Delta [State]. That's going to be a big game for us. That's [the Gulf South Conference] home opening weekend. Great opponent and their fans travel really well.”
A decade ago, there was no West Florida football program. Athletics Director Dave Scott is among those who marvel at the successes in the program’s relatively short existence.
“I don't think anybody could have envisioned, you know, us making it to the national championships in the second year, and winning a national championship in the fourth year, said Scott. “I mean, there are schools that have been playing football for 100 years in Division II and never made it to national championship. This is going to be a great social environment here on campus for our or campus community. And Escambia [County] and the Panhandle.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday. Week 2 sees the Argonauts in Bolivar, Missouri at Southwest Baptist who UWF beat in the first game on campus last year.